Grantourismo is the blog of a husband-wife travel writer and photographer team Lara Dunston and Terence Carter (that’s us!), who have been on a continuous, contemporary grand tour of the world. Our mission is to make travel more meaningful and more memorable by exploring more authentic and enriching ways to travel. We are proponents of slow and sustainable travel, local travel and living like locals, experiential travel and learning and doing things when we travel, and, wherever possible, giving something back to the places we visit. We blog about our travels, the places we settle into, the people we meet and the experiences we have on Grantourismo.
Grantourismo or ‘grand touring’ is the style of travelling we’ve been doing since January 2006, when, with a slew of guidebooks and travel articles under our belts and a year’s worth of writing commissions lined up, this husband and wife writer and photographer team embarked on a one-year travel experiment. Putting our worldly possessions into storage in Dubai, we took to the road to live out of our suitcases, bouncing around the planet from project to project. One year turned into six, and we’re still moving.
Along the way, we changed the whole meaning of globetrotting, and in the process we redefined the way in which travel writers work. While we still undertake traditional travel writing assignments, writing and shooting for magazines and newspapers around the world, doing the occasional guidebook, and developing our own books and travel aps, we also work directly with travel brands, tourism organizations and travel companies on special projects.
And we love a good project. We like planning something extraordinary, embarking on a unique journey, and chronicling a trip or experience in an engaging, evocative and inspiring way here on Grantourismo. We’re open to any project idea, travel experience, writers-in-residence programme, or one-of-a-kind trip, from a weekend to a week, a month to a year. Our only requirement is that it aligns with our principles and passions. It should promote slow and sustainable travel, experiential travel, local travel and living like locals, and/or the notion of ‘giving back’ to places travelled. If you have an idea for a project that you think we might be able to collaborate on together, do email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s an example of the kind of thing we like to do…
In 2010, in partnership with HomeAwayUK we swapped hotel rooms for holiday homes and embarked on a contemporary grand tour of the world. Our mission was to explore more authentic and enriching ways of travelling by slowing down, living like locals, learning and doing things, and, wherever possible, giving something back to the places we visited. And by doing so, promoting holiday rentals as an alternative to hotels and the things that are possible when travellers stay in holiday rentals. Beginning with a pre-launch soiree in Dubai, and kicking off with a proper launch party in London, we took to the road, staying in 36 holiday rentals over the course of a year.
We wrote about the properties we experienced and how to live like locals in the places we visited, the neighbourhoods we explored, the walks, the tours, the cooking lessons and other courses we did, the things we learnt, and the locals we met who shared their insider knowledge and local tips. At each place we stayed, Terence learnt to cook a quintessential dish of the place and created weekend eggs based on local ingredients, and shared those recipes on Grantourismo. We sought out local producers and products we could promote and opportunities for visitors to give back to the places. We interviewed local experts on everything from food and wine to music, film and pop culture, and in some places, we sought out music experts to create a playlist for you when you visit these places. We also created eating and drinking guides, walking tours, guides to places, and more. Browse through our Archives (right column) from January 2010 until February 2011 for a better idea as to the kind of content we created.
During our 2010 HomeAwayUK Grand Tour and since that project finished in February 2011, we’ve worked with a number of other travel brands, on everything from short-term projects to competitions. Our partners have included: Viator, Context, Rail Europe, Our Explorer, Trourist, AFAR, Putumayo, Luxe Guides, Melbourne Private Tours, Roomorama, Espresso Apartments, Great Southern Rail, South Australia Tourism, Lord Howe Island Tourism, Hamilton Island and Great Barrier Feast, Destination NSW, Sabah Tourism, Orion Expeditions, Selangor Tourism, Relais and Chateaux, Air New Zealand, and Sony Australia. What all projects, whether large or small, have in common is that they explore one or more of our guiding principles and passions.
The original idea of The Grand Tour, a slow, extended journey aimed at learning about the local culture, arts, language, and people of the places the grand tourists travelled to, has always been appealing. Like the early grand tourists, our kind of travel is a more experiential style of extended travel. Terence has a passion for cooking and there are still a few musical instruments he hasn’t yet mastered. Lara has dabbled in everything from bellydancing to badminton. We’re up for anything and have tried our hands at all kinds of things from learning how to train elephants in Thailand to Terry playing at Master Chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant kitchen in Mallorca. At each place we visit, we endeavour to learn a little of the language. Our original plan for the yearlong grand tour we embarked upon in partnership with HomeAwayUK involved a month in each place within which time we would attempt to learn as much of the language that we could and a number of skills unique to the place – and then write a book about the experience. While we scaled back our ambitions for the HomeAwayUK project, our aims and interests were the same, and will always remain the same.
We have called thousands of hotel rooms around the world our home, often checking in and out of new hotels every day or two as we’ve bounced around the planet from one assignment to another. Nobody knows hotels like we do. But while we love the luxury and attentive service of a fine five-star, the charm and character of an unique boutique place, and the chance to unwind at a laidback beach resort, at every opportunity, we have been quick to trade our swipe cards for door keys and check into a rental property for a month or two. Independent boutique hotels can offer a slower style of travel than big brash brand hotels, but the contrast between cookie-cutter hotels and holiday rental accommodation couldn’t be greater. The chance to really slow down and kick back at a holiday rental is the obvious advantage. There are no breakfast buffet times to wake for, no need to lay your towel down on a sun bed at dawn, and no need to worry about when the kitchen closes. In a holiday rental you can do your own thing anytime, anywhere and take your time about it. By travelling more slowly, travellers are also travelling more sustainably – from taking the time to discover local markets and small neighbourhood businesses to shop instead of the first tourist traps spotted on the street, to choosing to buy and cook local produce instead of expensive imported products. Not only is this kind of slow travel more sustainable, travellers are able to learn how to live like locals.
One of the things that we love about renting properties when we travel is the opportunity they afford to travel more authentically by meeting, learning about and living like locals. Whether it’s the regular exchange of greetings with neighbours in the corridor or small talk each day with the owner of the corner grocery shop that develops into meaningful conversation, there’s a sense of community to be tasted from such small interactions and special insights into places and their people that can rarely be experienced when staying at a hotel. Such encounters enable travellers to befriend local people or at the very least get great local recommendations and enable travellers to learn to live like locals – a wonderful thing at a time when so many travel experiences are manufactured and mass produced, and globalisation has meant that hotels, attractions, restaurants, and even food and drink, are starting to look, feel and taste the same all around the world. At each destination we visit we try to learn to live like locals. Our aim is always to identify the most ‘local’ places we can, from the bars and restaurants locals frequent to the markets where locals do their shopping. We share these experiences on this site and always welcome readers’ tips.
Travel, especially holidays, can often be very self-indulgent, focused on unwinding and relaxing, sleeping and reading, eating and drinking, and, increasingly, pampering at a retreat or spa. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, in recent years, a growing travel trend has been voluntourism or volunteerism, the idea of travelling to a place to volunteer your time and energy, skills and labour, to help out at a charity, school, NGO, environmental organization and so on. The intention is to give something back, rather than just take away. Unfortunately so many of the volunteer experiences around are long term, from six weeks to six months, even a year, yet not everyone is able to commit to such a lengthy period of time. Whenever we can, we like to volunteer some of our time or at least get a taste of a local volunteer experience to highlight on Grantourismo. We like to seek out short experiences, from one day to one week, that travellers can undertake as part of their holiday. Suggestions as to charities and organizations we should visit and cover are always welcome.